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Zimmerman’s Gunshine State: White Man’s Verdict, Black Men’s Burden

| July 13, 2013

He walks.

He walks.

I was not in the jury room during deliberations over the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman. But my recollection of jury duty, from a lone trial a long time ago, is that a diverse group of citizens, called to pass judgment on a fellow citizen, take their responsibilities seriously. Most jurors check their biases, personal grievances and preconceived notions at the courthouse door, and do their level best to arrive at a verdict based on the facts presented to them. So I can only assume that, in acquitting Zimmerman of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Zimmerman jury did the same, adhering to Judge Debra Nelson’s instructions, weighing the evidence and arriving at a conclusion they believed in.

Clearly, the jury was not convinced by the prosecution’s argument that, in the words of Assistant State’s Attorney John Guy, “The defendant didn’t shoot Trayvon Martin because he had to. He shot him because he wanted to.” Had the jurors accepted that argument they would have returned a guilty verdict of second-degree murder.

Nor was the jury buying a case for manslaughter, for which prosecutors only had to show that Zimmerman “intentionally committed an act or acts that caused the death of Trayvon Martin,” in the words of Judge Nelson’s jury charge.

Instead, the jury believed Zimmerman’s account of that evening’s events: That 17-year-old Trayvon Martin overpowered him, slammed his head into the pavement, and would have killed him or seriously injured him with his fists if Zimmerman had not managed to fire his gun into Martin’s chest. Under Florida law, that shooting is a justifiable homicide.

That’s the way this jury saw it, and it marks the end of the criminal case against Zimmerman. But it’s not the finale of this saga that we need to focus on. It’s the beginning.

In the eyes of the law, George Zimmerman is not guilty of any crime stemming from the altercation he had with Martin. Yet there would have been no altercation, no cries for help, no gunshot, had Zimmerman simply waited in his car for a police officer to arrive. And Zimmerman would not have gotten out of his car had Trayvon Martin been white. I know it, you know it, and George Zimmerman knows it.

The Robinson Files:

Angered by a series of burglaries in his neighborhood, Zimmerman assumed the young black man in the hoodie was casing houses. From the very moment he spotted Martin, Zimmerman took action based on a faulty, fatal premise–that the young man in the hoodie was a danger, a threat to him and to his neighbors. Zimmerman was more concerned with avenging the burglaries than with ascertaining the reason for Martin’s presence in the community.

Everything that happened in the ensuing minutes sprang from Zimmerman’s warped notion of who Martin was. And that notion was, in itself, an act of prejudice and aggression that ended in a death.

The jury verdict validates the premise that, in Florida, the person who initiates a confrontation—in this case Zimmerman—does not always bear responsibility for what happens afterward. The jury was left to conclude that in pulling the trigger Zimmerman acted in self-defense. But Martin would be alive had Zimmerman not set out in pursuit of him, a pursuit based on prejudice.

Back in May, I concluded a column by saying that, whatever the verdict, no one should be cheering. In the days to come, we’ll undoubtedly hear politicians echoing that refrain, but their words will be meaningless unless real action is taken to prevent more encounters like the one that ended with Martin’s death.

For starters, anyone who volunteers for a neighborhood watch group should be armed with nothing more lethal than a cell phone. Most volunteers are well-intentioned and are not looking for confrontation; they are simply another set of eyes and ears for their local police. But those who like to flatter themselves that they are peace officers, and who arm themselves on patrol, are a danger not only to themselves but to their neighbors. Lacking proper training, and often motivated by the sort of unfocused anger that Zimmerman displayed on his 911 call to police–“These assholes they always get away”—they are emboldened by the gun on their hip, and a bad situation only gets worse.

If a volunteer thinks he sees a bad guy, his best weapon is to lock his car door, and use his cellphone to dial 911. That ought to be the law. Had Zimmerman not been armed that night, I think it highly unlikely that he would have left the safety of his car to pursue Martin. He’d have waited for an officer to arrive, and the world would never have heard of either George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin.

It’s also time for the gunslingers who inhabit our legislature to take a closer look at the imbalance between those who are armed and those who are not. And hold the angry email: I’m not talking about defending one’s home and family with a firearm. Having the means to use lethal force in an argument or confrontation should carry with it the responsibility to try to defuse or leave a tense situation. A man or woman with a gun should be expected to avoid places and flee situations where there is the potential for violence. If an armed person wades into trouble, the burden should always be on the shooter to justify his actions.

A person who shoots an unarmed man or woman should never be given the benefit of the doubt, as was the case early on with Zimmerman and the Sanford police. There has to be some accountability for shooting and killing an unarmed man. In short, we need to reexamine the definition of self-defense and the odious “stand your ground” statute.

Zimmerman is a free man, but his legacy should not be that he was “right” to do what he did. He should be viewed as the sad, angry embodiment of the fear and paranoia that would have us believe that owning a gun and using a gun are equal and inseparable rights.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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90 Responses for “Zimmerman’s Gunshine State: White Man’s Verdict, Black Men’s Burden”

  1. Jeremy says:

    The title of the article is very proper and says it all.

    Now skin me you Floridians!


  2. Dave says:

    The people demanded George be arrested and tried by his peers and they got just what they wanted but now that Mr George has been cleared of the charges the same people that demanded his arrest are now yelling it was a bad trail , I am sorry people but I do not believe it was a race issue and I am sick and tired of hearing about , what is the sense in taking to the streets ? nothing good is going to come from it and in the end it will only lead to more people being arrested because a lot of these protest are proving to be out of control.


  3. Matt says:

    Everything on here is incredibly biased and gives the readers an obvious view of the side you were on. You capitalize on any situation involving a black to be racist. Lets not forget your article about the man being tased in Bunnell by PD.


  4. Karma says:

    This is what happens when you have a press that insights hatred. Now we have a federal government that’s fueling the fire. (Reid, Holder) Even the President had to inject race in this case very early. If he truly cares about all people of crime, he may want to speak about his hometown. Four people were killed in Chicago including a eight year old child while the Zimmerman jury deliberated. Not a word about any of these tragedies in any MSM outlets. WHY?


  5. E.C.H. says:

    How about this commentary:

    Fomenting racial division can lead to more violence Mr. Steve Robinson.


  6. Al says:

    So why is he so popular now? He sure was not before! Meaning Trayvon… know why? OBUMER He alone Started this whole mess.

    If I had a son….lmao what a joke!


  7. A.S.F. says:

    This has nothing to do with OBAMA (use his given name, why don’t you–He IS the President of the United States and deserves some moldicum of respect, even from his most ignorant detractors.) This whole incident was about the tragedy that results when an immature bully of 30 years of age appoints himself God’s gift to the neighborhood, makes the fatal mistake of thinking he can confront anyone he wishes, whenever he wishes, for whatever reason he wishes, and then reaches for his gun when he finds himself in over his head. You obviously feel no sadness over the fact that an unarmed teenager is dead and that his loved ones will now have to wonder for the rest of THEIR lives what his future might have been if only he hadn’t crossed paths with a misdirected, self-styled (and, unfortunately, armed) man-on-a-mission. What is really disturbing is that there are so many out there who appear to be taking satisfaction in the death of one Black teenager, as though that somehow sets their world to rights. We have evolved to a place where we can elect a President of color because he was the best man for the job–twice! Get over it or find people to run next time who aren’t as totally obnoxious and clueless as the candidates you managed to scrounge up the last time.


    • dlf says:

      You earn respect. it is not given to you because of your position in life, the color of your skin, or how much money you have, Hussein has not earned his yet, if he resigns he may then be respected.


  8. Karma says:

    Hey Steve
    When can we expect to see a story about Antonio Santiago?


  9. Bunnell Resident says:

    Shame on the writer of this article. It is nothing but race baiting. The writer should have used this as an opportunity to reinforce the American Justice system That everyone must be proven guilty and that we should all respect the rule of law. There was no arrest originally in this case because prosecutors knew there was not enough evidence to convict. The prosecution team at trial must have gone to work every day feeling like complete idiots for being forced to prosecute a case they could never win.


  10. BW says:

    This situation is tragic to say the least and for a lot of reasons. The loss of a life at 17 years old. The loss of another’s freedom and the tragedy he must live with for the rest of his life. The loss of trust in one another and more division in our society.

    But it’s more than that. It’s also tragic because violence continues to escalate in our country. Respect for one another is at an all-time low. And a sense of life being sacred is disappearing right before our eyes. Yet very few care.

    People are frustrated. No one should have to be concerned of homes being broken into. Many of the break-ins in our community here are by young people. And I will be honest with you, when I see any teenager walking our streets in my neighborhood at night I’m slowing down too and watching them getting as much detail as possible and watching where they go.

    I don’t think this situation was as much about race as people would like it to be. They want to be lazy and not think further and delve into the real truths that are front of them. They want laws to protect them when it works for the outcome they’d like to have, but they don’t want those same laws to be fair for others or situations they are opposed to. George Zimmerman had every right to question a suspicious looking person walking around at night in a neighborhood that has been plagued with break-ins. He has a right (unfortunately) to carry a firearm and unfortunately felt as though he should (and many others do to in this day and age). What happened next with that encounter only 2 people actually know and one is dead. I don’t think that encounter should have ended in such violence but it did and one can deduce that the conversation and actions on both sides was filled with pride and “manning up”. Just imagine what that outcome could have been had respect and decency for one another been there.

    This wasn’t about race. This about a society that is losing fundamental values every day and we’re too lazy to truly own up to that. People can protest and call for further lawsuits galore, but at the end of the day nothing has been solved and no progress will have been made. If anything we will have gone backwards. We will not solve anything in this country until we admit the problem is our lack of respect for life. That’s what all other problems stem from, and if you can’t see that you’re blind. As blind and lazy as the person who simply thinks this situation was because of race.


  11. RG says:

    The biggest mistake in this whole incident was the failure of the police operator to keep GZ on the phone till police got there and in contact with GZ.


  12. dlf says:

    While the Zimmerman trail was taking place, 54 people were shot in Chicago and 14 died. None of them were Obama’s sons, at least that we know of. He was a community organizer in the Chicago area, so it could be possible. Where were all of you Travon fans when this was going on, oh I forgot it was in most cases black on black and no one cares about that kind of crime.


    • A.S.F. says:

      The Chicago card again…A new (and even more ridiculous) ploy to smear President Obama while whining about how everyone else besides you, and your Tea Party buddies, is guilty of race-baiting. Your prejudices couldn’t be more apparent if you were wearing them plastered on a tee-shirt while walking up and down Palm Coast Parkway with a bull-horn accusing Liberals of being guilty of anything and everything that might be pissing you off today, including the weather.


  13. RG says:

    To: A.S.F.

    Dont jump to conclusions as to some ones comment as to thier race. Not all dark skinned people are jumping on the Trayvon is an innocent little boy syndrom. Every criminal case is unique in its own way and to piggy back this case onto other civil rights cases is ignorant. Their are thousands of people in prison that made bad choices and many repeated bad choices to end them up doing hard time. My kids are grown now
    and disipline and supervision has not always kept them out of jail and trouble. But they new one thing that there is a price to pay when they broke the law. There is no,its the other guys fault. We all bleed the same when we are cut what ever color we are. Young Tryvon played with fire and got burned. You go ahead and jump on the Civil rights band wagon maybe your right to defend the Black cause of civil rights abuse but your not representing the majority of us the saw it as as a not guilty verdict. You have not been assaulted in such a manner where you had to defend your life or you would not be so quick to judge. violence begets violence and Tryvon started a (physical) fight that cost him his life. Do you really believe that tryvon was was good little boy ok but bad acts sometimes have bad outcomes.


  14. DLF says:

    I don’t understand if Travon was in fear of his life why did he not call 911? He chose instead to talk to that girl,wonder why. From her testimony I would think it was a one sided conversation .


  15. He is what he is says:

    Trayvon was not a child. He was months away from being an adult MAN! There are criminals that have been tried as adults that were The same age as Trayvon. Trayvon was not the cute little baby face 12 year old that the media insists on showing on TV, he was man size. If his real identity had been shown all along, some may have different opinions about this case. “Child’s” should not be smoking dope and be left unsupervised.


  16. Debra says:

    Article fails to mention the murderer is a black male adult and the victim is a 17 year old hispanic child. Google it, there are other articles related to this 2009 shooting.


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